The nation’s first two Stryker brigades each have completed
a year-long tour in Iraq. Their combined combat experiences have
taught the Army—and critics—much about the effectiveness
of the Stryker vehicle as well as the brigade, itself.
Stryker, as a vehicle, has proven its worth. It has saved lives,”
said Maj. Nicholas Mullen, rear detachment commander of the 1st
Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, which is known as the second Stryker
brigade combat team.
Since the Army first announced the establishment of a new medium
force of fighters in 1999 and selected the Stryker vehicle as its
platform in 2000, the Stryker brigade has been under constant scrutiny.
That attention has focused almost exclusively upon the 19-ton, eight-wheeled
armored vehicle for which the brigade is named.
“We were getting all the attacks about why the Stryker is
too heavy, too big, too tall, too wheeled,” said Col. Michael
Peppers, director of the G37 Division at Fort Lewis, Wash., where
the two brigades are based.
Early on, the Government Accountability Office questioned the Stryker’s
transportability aboard a C-130.
“It does fit on a C-130. I’ve flown in one with it,”
said Lt. Col. William James, deputy commander of 3rd Brigade, 2nd
Infantry Division, also known as the first Stryker Brigade Combat
The vehicle, designed to carry a nine-man squad and two-man crew,
has shown that its survivability, agility, mobility and technology
is effective in an urban combat zone where the enemy strikes at
any time in numerous ways, said Peppers.
“It is the vehicle of choice from what we’ve seen [in
Iraq]—incredibly robust, can take a lot of punishment. I’ve
seen it hit with multiple rocket-propelled grenades and keep going.
I’ve seen it hit with vehicle-borne bombs that you wonder
how anybody could have survived—and everybody walks away,”
During a recent visit to Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, soldiers and
officers who fought in Iraq defended the vehicle with passionate
“I’m going back for a second year in Iraq, and I’m
damn glad I’m going in a Stryker,” said James of 3/2.
The first Stryker brigade is training for deployment next summer
(see related story).
Not only did the Stryker vehicle have to contend with outside critics,
but it also had to win over the soldiers as well, especially those
who had been in heavy units before joining the brigade.
“We were all thinking, is this going to work or not?”
said Jeffrey Du, brigade command sergeant major for 3/2.
“I was a skeptic a couple of years ago,” said Maj.
Doug Baker, executive officer of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry
Regiment, one of the three infantry battalions in 3/2. He worked
in the Joint Readiness Training Center at Ft. Polk before being
assigned to the brigade. “When the brigade came through its
Joint Readiness Training Center rotation, you saw platoons and companies
using Stryker in different variations. Some tried to fight it like
a Bradley, others dismounted way back, didn’t use it to really
close in to the objective and moved in several clicks. And others,
in between,” he said.
“If you were off-road in Louisiana, there was a tendency
to get stuck. You really couldn’t get the Stryker through
some areas where a Ford F-250 would get through.” On the other
hand, “once you were on a highway, you’re going 70 miles
an hour very easily,” he said.
Once he was on the ground in Iraq doing missions with the battalion,
it didn’t take long for him to become a Stryker convert.
“When you rolled out the gate, you were fairly confident
that that vehicle was going to take care of you,” said Baker.
“I’m familiar with what a Bradley can do. It’s
a fantastic vehicle, but I would take a Stryker over it in Iraq
The vehicle, which is produced by General Dynamics Land Systems,
has protected the troops against numerous threats in Iraq, including
improvised explosive devices (IEDs), car bombs, rocket propelled
grenades (RPGs), mines and small arms fire, according to soldier
“During our year there, not a single soldier died inside
a Stryker vehicle. There were a couple of soldiers riding who were
hit, but nobody died inside a vehicle. And there were penetrations
that were fairly catastrophic,” said Lt. Col. Barry Huggins,
commander of the 2-3 Infantry Battalion, who served as the first
Stryker Brigade’s executive officer in Iraq.
Stryker Brigade combat teams, designed as an early-entry force
that fills the gap between light and heavy forces, are infantry-centric
units composed of three infantry battalions, a cavalry squadron,
an artillery battalion, a support battalion and four companies—military
intelligence, engineer, signal and anti-tank. Approximately 310
Strykers support each brigade.
The Stryker’s armor protects against 14.5 mm rounds. Before
deploying to Iraq, the first Stryker brigade acquired slat armor
that could be added to the vehicle to protect soldiers from RPGs.
The 5,200-pound armor wraps around the sides of the vehicle and
deflects RPGs, which then explode away from the vehicle.
“I was here [at Fort Lewis] when they came up with the slat
armor. Everybody’s like, ‘oh, it’s a birdcage.
It’ll never do anything,’ “ recounted Mullen.
A month into operations in Iraq, his unit was doing a cordon-and-search
operation with the Iraqi army at a mosque in Mosul. “We’d
gotten a tip that insurgents were holding a meeting in one of the
rooms off the mosque. I’m 50 feet from a Stryker that got
hit with three rocket-propelled grenades. And everybody’s
okay. One kid got a little shrapnel from a mortar round,”
But the Center for Army Lessons Learned released a report in late
December 2004 that suggested the slat armor was only effective against
half of the RPG attacks that the first Stryker brigade soldiers
faced. It also found the additional weight compromised the maneuverability
of the vehicle.
“There were physically very few places that we couldn’t
go within that urban terrain,” said Mullen. “If there
was blocking on one side of the street, you’d just jump the
curb and drive down the other side of the street. Well, you can
do that in a Stryker, and it doesn’t destroy the infrastructure
that’s there. With a tank or Bradley, you’re crushing
things when you do that,” he said.
The 1/25 has put 5 million miles on its Stryker vehicles.
“We just drive them all over the place. And they have really
held up well under that kind of constraint. I don’t think
any of that was foreseen by the Army when it purchased the vehicles,”
The Stryker operational readiness rate was in the high 90s routinely,
which is way above Army standard, said Huggins, of 3/2. “That’s
in part a function of the vehicle, in part it’s a function
of the tremendous contractor support it came with. They put in place
a very effective system that did a tremendous job of keeping our
combat power available to us,” he said.
Powered by a 350-horsepower engine, called the Caterpillar, that
is found in other Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTVs), the
Stryker can travel more than 300 miles at speeds in excess of 60
miles an hour on one tank of gas. Despite such power and heft, the
vehicle comes with an unexpected bonus.
“Strykers are incredibly quiet,” said Mullen.
So quiet that some Iraqis call the soldiers who operate them, “ghost
riders,” a moniker that arose following a night-time operation
in Samarra during which eight platoons raided a 10 by 10 km section
of the city without disrupting neighbors sleeping near the targeted
homes, said James of 3/2.
In the parking lot outside the 3/2 headquarters at Fort Lewis in
late August, a Stryker Commander’s Vehicle idled on high,
emitting a whine that sounded like a high-powered vacuum cleaner.
According to the soldiers who accompanied a National Defense reporter
aboard, that is as loud as the vehicles get.
Sitting inside the vehicle, Cpl. Derald Wise touched a 10-inch
color screen monitor attached to a swivel arm and punched up a digital
map of Fort Lewis. On the map, green icons appeared.
The system, Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below, known as
FBCB2, gives soldiers access to a secure wireless network that allows
them to share data quickly and efficiently across an entire battlefield
without having to resort to radio contact.
One function of FBCB2 allows soldiers to see their own vehicle
as an icon on a map along with other friendly vehicles. And if an
enemy has been sighted, they can put it on the map as well, explained
Col. Steven Townsend, commander of the 3/2.
Leaders on each Stryker can send graphics and messages through
these systems, greatly enhancing the team’s situational awareness.
“We can share graphics, overlays, and can even do rehearsals
while on the move. Five minutes later, we can hit the objective
and be synchronized,” said Capt. Teddy Kleisner, company commander
for Bravo 1-23.
“FBCB2 is a great system with some growth potential. It allows
us to dynamically change our mission on the go,” said Maj.
Joseph Davidson, executive officer for 3/2. In Iraq, he commanded
a Stryker as executive officer for the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry.
“A process that would normally take up to an hour or two,
I’m doing it in minutes. It’s a very powerful capability
for tactical planning and execution,” he said. For instance,
he cited a situation where a high-value target was identified in
his squadron’s area of operation. Within 10 minutes of receiving
a cell phone call in the operations center, he had sent the mission
and graphics to the subordinate troop commander, who within 30 minutes
had completed a cordon, and within 45 minutes, had begun the raid.
Such information was previously available only to commanding officers,
but now soldiers in the field have access to data.
“I like the fact that our sergeants, in our Strykers, have
almost the same view of the battlefield that I do. I think that’s
a good thing,” said Townsend.
Before Townsend took command of 3/2, his predecessor invited him
to Iraq to see the capabilities of the Strykers. Townsend saw first-hand
how having such a digital system aboard can prove advantageous in
avoiding potential conflicts out on missions.
“As we rolled out on a mission one day, a couple of kilometers
away an IED went off. And there was an ambush. The unit that was
in that contact populated FBCB2 with the enemy at that location:
‘IED and an ambush.’ As we proceeded with our mission,
I forgot about it. An hour or so later, we’re driving near
that area and a voice comes on the earphones in the helmet and says,
‘ warning, enemy in area.’ I looked at the screen, and
sure enough, there was a red icon that had been there for an hour,”
The first Stryker Brigade began relieving the 101st Airborne Division
in Northern Iraq and Mosul in Nov. 2003.
“To come in behind them and try to keep progress moving was
a challenge,” said Huggins.
Not only was the Stryker Brigade a significantly smaller unit than
the 101st—with 3,864 soldiers compared to approximately 18,000—but
it also covered more ground than it was originally designed to cover.
“That battlespace that we operated in was 25 times what we
were envisioned to do—50 by 50 kilometer blocks is how they
designed the brigade. And what we ended up doing was covering a
276 by 226 kilometer box, around 48,000 square kilometers as opposed
to 2,500. That is phenomenal,” said Huggins.
“One of the better acquisitions for us was a commercial off-the-shelf
satellite system that allowed us to expand our bandwidth and gave
us the technical means to kind of realize the vision of digital
command and control,” said Huggins. The brigade went from
an essentially dial-up speed to digital satellite technology that
allowed it to do many things, such as pass large files such as photographs
across a huge battlespace, he said. They were also able to establish
their own e-mail server at the brigade level, he said.
Such connectivity and real-time situational awareness gave commanders
unprecedented ability to move and deploy soldiers outside of a unit’s
“We found ourselves becoming the theater commander’s
unit of choice when he had to respond to a contingency somewhere
that required a quick movement for a long period of time,”
said Huggins. “To try to command and control a brigade of
this complexity, across a battlespace like that, with grease pencils
and a map or stickies, I can’t conceive it. I don’t
know how you would do that anymore,” said Huggins.
Besides the tactical and operational enhancements the FBCB2 technology
provides, it also has played a key role in preventing deaths.
“There are instances where I’m convinced fratricide
was prevented and response times were cut significantly and forces
were oriented properly and de-conflicted solely because of that
piece of technology, put into the hands of people who understood
how to use it, and understood its capabilities and embraced it,”
The success of the first two Stryker Brigades has fueled more confidence
in the capabilities of the vehicle. But as the brigades continue
to transform, soldiers in those brigades continue to evaluate strategies
for best utilizing the Stryker.
“Even after spending a year in Iraq, we haven’t perfected
how to use the vehicle. Where is the optimum place to put it? Do
you drive straight up to the house that you need to, dismount there,
breach it, go in, grab the bad guys, or do you somewhere in between
establish a cordon with the vehicles and then move in dismounted?
There’s a myriad of techniques. And none of them are wrong.
Each one of the battalions probably does everything a little bit
differently. And we’re still figuring it out,” said